- Learn to be present to the sensations of your body.
- Practice connecting with those sensations on a regular basis.
Why, when everyone is talking about mindfulness, am I talking about physical sensation?
Because the mind can be anywhere – past, future, fantasy — but the body is always here now. Tuning into your body begins a pathway to an incredible stream of intelligence that allows you to be mindful (and heartful) in a real and grounded way.
There is a lot of confusion these days about the concept of mindfulness. A few months ago, I read a New York Times article in which the author expressed her dismay that she hadn’t found permanent contentment being in the moment, and wondered why she shouldn’t use her incredible powers of imagination to zone out, particularly with activities like dishwashing, which she hates.
People, it’s not about the dishes. The dishes are a metaphor.
Imagine that the dishes are all the things in your life that you don’t want to deal with. They could represent the state of your finances, the attention you pay to the health of your body, your creativity, your career, your relationships with other people – anything that is stuck in your life and you’d rather not touch.
Maybe you wash those metaphorical dishes every day in robot mode – it seems like you’re cleaning them, but you’re daydreaming the whole time, so who knows what’s actually happening? You keep daydreaming through the washing and wonder why the same dishes keep showing up in your sink.
In another scenario, you ignore the dishes completely. You let them pile up in the sink and get so used to them that you don’t notice them anymore. You wonder why there’s a sensation of this big mass of something holding you down, but you’d rather not encounter it, and so it grows, and grows, and grows.
There is a third option.
You could walk over to the sink and be physically present with the dishes. Take in the whole landscape and see what’s going on there. What needs your attention? What action is required? Where should you start?
My experience is that the longer I’ve been zoning out or avoiding the dishes, the harder it is to take that first step toward just standing there and Being with them. Consciously coming into the sensations of my body after a leave of absence often means being present with numbness, pain, or tension.
When I’m willing to stay with the sensations of my body in the ordinary fabric of my life (which includes dishes, metaphorical and literal), something shifts, expands, becomes more free and engaged and energized. This place of presence in my body is the only place in which I’m capable of taking conscious action. And, I can only change my relationship to something that I am actually present to,
Notice that I said “change my relationship to” rather than “change.” I don’t know the exact nature of your dishes, but I do know that some dishes, if encountered clearly, can be properly washed and spend most of their time retired on the shelf.
As for the others: you may have to keep washing them. Some of them might not ever really go away, but you can change your relationship to them.
Your ability to be physically present with all the dishes in your life – the ones you adore and the ones that you don’t want to deal with — that’s the true measure of contentment.
There is so much in our lives that we cannot control.
Why not learn to be on the pulse of the things that we can?
p.s. Check out some practices for being in touch with your body on the Resources page.